A report on European youth football released by the CIES Football Observatory (www.football-observatory.com/IMG/sites/mr/mr09/en/) before the international break revealed that club-trained players plying their trade in the Premier League have been allowed the smallest percentage of playing time out of the top 5 European league so far this season. The opportunities given to young English footballers, particularly in the top flight, have long been under scrutiny given the international side’s lack of success in recent years.
England’s current crop of talent looks in good shape though. Qualifying for the European Championships with a 100% record, and with rising stars like Sterling, Kane, Barkley, Stones et al, the future looks bright for England. In order for progress to continue however, many still feel much needs to be improved in youth development.
The argument against giving special treatment to young English players has long been “Cream rises to the top”, and with potential world beater’s like the aforementioned, those who purport such arguments may seem vindicated. But is there more to it?
I loved playing football as a kid. Every break at school, after school down the park, and hours in the garden on my own trying to emulate the likes of Gazza versus Scotland, Anderton versus Columbia and Owen versus Argentina. I literally dreamt about playing for England. My family was poor though, and the cost of kit, registration and subs was considerable. I felt so guilty that I pretended I didn’t want to play football anymore.
The chances are that I wouldn’t have made it, but I won’t have been the first or last kid to stop playing the game they love because of money. Football shouldn’t be exclusive. The beauty of football is that it can be played by anyone, anywhere, at any time. All you need is ball.
The fact is though, to stand a chance of being scouted by a professional club, you need to be playing in the minor leagues, and whether it benefits the national team or not, kids shouldn’t have to miss out because they can’t afford it.
Wouldn’t it make much more sense, given the amount of money in the sport, for those raking in the profits to foot the bill rather than the parents?
If Premier League players earning over 40k pw were taxed 1% of their wages, and clubs were charged 1% of their transfer budget, it could subsidise all of youth football in the United Kingdom.
In return the Premier League clubs will find a larger pool of young footballers from which to scout, potentially saving millions in transfer fees and the youth players who go on to be successful will fund the next generation. Moreover there will be more home-grown players developing further which can only benefit the national team(s).
Of course implementing such a system would not solve everything. You have to address footballing development at all levels to really see progress, but there’s no point addressing the issue at all if you don’t start at grass-roots level.
Surely it’s obvious though, if you put more cream in the cup, more will rise to the top.